The top-seeded Indiana Pacers were ambushed at home by the Atlanta Hawks in Game 1, effectively making Tuesday's Game 2 a must-win. After trailing at the half, the Pacers blew it open and cruised to a 101-85 victory on the strength of their defense.
Paul George led everybody with 27 points and 10 rebounds, and he was locked in from long range with five triples on seven attempts. Luis Scola had the shooting touch as well and added 20 points off the bench.
Paul Millsap led Atlanta with 19 points, but like the rest of the plucky Hawks, nothing was working in the second half.
After Atlanta seized a 52-48 lead at halftime, the Pacers turned defense to offense in a smothering third quarter. They held the Hawks to 25 percent shooting on a litany of jumpers and leaped into the lead by owning the quarter 31-13.
Indy pieced together a 19-0 run during a six-minute stretch to close the third and open the fourth to earn a 22-point lead.
That is what the Pacers are. That second half is befitting a No. 1 seed, not the Game 1 debacle that saw them trailing by 20 in the fourth quarter at home. Play with relentless intensity on defense, and the offense will come.
Having spared themselves the ignominy of going down 0-2 as a top seed, we hand out grades for all key players in the Pacers' face-saving Game 2 win.
Player grades start at a C+ for decent overall performance. That increases or decreases based on the quality of each player's contributions, with extra credit for huge stats or clutch performance. (We'll put role players on the grading curve.) Instead of gold stars and frowny faces, here are grades for every player.
Key Pacers Grades
Paul George, Small Forward
Paul George put in a dozen points in the first half, while the rest of the starters managed just 10. George had five dimes by the break, and he set the tone with a solid two-way performance.
He took on the responsibility of guarding Atlanta's greased-lightning guard, Jeff Teague, and the point guard found nothing to work with in the second half. Indy packed the paint, and the Hawks continually settled for long-range jump shots.
George finished with game highs on 27 points, 10 rebounds, six assists (tied with David West) and four steals.
George Hill, Point Guard
Hill was scoreless in the first half, but he displayed much greater intensity after halftime. His offense got cooking to help him finish with 15 points, and he was actually shown smiling by TNT cameras. He only dished two assists, but his eventual success on offense appeared to bolster his D. Hill dropped 10 of Indy's 31 in the third.
All is right in Pacerland after the starters dominated the second half so thoroughly that a halftime deficit became a laugher only 15 minutes later.
Roy Hibbert, Center
Hibbert started at center and tried to let his play speak for itself. He actually got blocked by Kyle Korver in the first quarter, which probably had Carmelo Anthony laughing, but it was business time after that. Pero Antic had nothing working on offense, and Paul Millsap trudged through the second half.
Hibbert finished with six points, four rebounds and zero blocks, but he was an effective presence on the court in his 24 minutes—well, at least on one end. He was a dolt on offense and made just one shot on seven attempts. Moreover, the Pacers' big run came with Ian Mahinmi in the middle.
In part due to the Pacers' closeouts, but mostly due to rotten shooting, Atlanta threw up brick after brick from the perimeter over the final 24 minutes.
Lance Stephenson, Shooting Guard
Sir Lancelot was limited to two points in the first half, which equaled his turnover total, but he came out with fire in the third quarter. As TNT's Chris Webber noted, Stephenson was the first player out of the locker room after halftime, and he looked eager to give the home fans what they paid to see.
Stephenson provided a spark on both ends as the Pacers demolished Atlanta. His three-point play and step-back jumper midway through the third helped turn the momentum.
David West, Power Forward
West picked up three fouls in the first half, which might have limited his aggressiveness somewhat. In fact, it just made him more generous. West dished four of his six dimes in the second half to go with eight points, two rebounds, a block and a steal. He also helped in the third-quarter clampdown that pushed Atlanta behind the arc with regularity.
Pacers fans would love to see more from West, but Hill, George and the bench provided everything Indy needed in Game 2.
Luis Scola, Power Forward
Luis Scola scored 13 points by halftime, powering Indy's bench to 26 first-half points. He kept it going down the stretch and drained a handful of long-range jumpers like his name was Reggie Miller.
Scola was enormous with 20 points and seven rebounds, and there was nothing Atlanta could do about it. He was locked in.
Rest of Bench
C.J. Watson was another vital member of the bench mob in Game 2 with his impressively useful performance. He scored 10 points on five shots and added five rebounds, two assists and two steals.
Evan Turner had a couple of flashes that included a three-pointer and a pair of dimes, but he was only needed for 11 minutes.
Ian Mahinmi mainly just blocked a couple of shots and fouled people, but that's what the Pacers pay him for. He's a dollar-store Hibbert made in France.
Chris Copeland came on in garbage time and received a warm round of applause from the crowd.
Key Hawks Grades
Paul Millsap, Power Forward
Millsap had everything working on the offensive end and led all scorers at halftime with 15 points; he was even perfect on a pair of three-point attempts.
However, a sea change occurred in the Pacers after the half. Millsap was hounded and frustrated by Hibbert and the frontcourt as the entire Hawks offense ground to a halt.
Millsap was also unable to match Indy's physicality, and he picked up four fouls in the first 17 minutes of the second half. That put him on five for the game with seven to play, though the deficit had ballooned to 25 by that point and all starters exited the game.
Jeff Teague, Point Guard
Jeff Teague totaled a dozen points, five boards and four assists in the first half to get on a triple-double watch. George Hill was no match for Teague's quickness once again, but Teague drew Paul George as a defender on many possessions.
Teague drove the Hawks offense into a ditch in the third quarter, and it never got out of it. He scored only two more points and did not total another assist, marking a second half nearly as ugly as the 23-point half Atlanta held Indiana to back on April 6.
Kyle Korver, Shooting Guard
The sharpshooting Korver did not even attempt a shot in 14 first-half minutes, which is a credit to the Pacers defense. He let fly in the second half but connected on only one of his five attempts.
When his shot is not falling, Korver can struggle to make an impact elsewhere on the stat sheet, and he's too slow to guard Indy's starting 2 or 3. Korver got a single rebound in 27 minutes, committed two turnovers and finished with a minus-22 rating.
Pero Antic, Center
Pero Antic, a Macedonian who is 6'11" and 260 pounds, for some reason thought that he should be a jump-shooter on Tuesday and hoisted up five three-point attempts.
Antic lived (and died) on the perimeter by bricking seven of his nine field-goal attempts. He also collected only three rebounds and generally got outplayed by Elton Brand off the bench. After Antic held a staring contest with David West in Game 1, he needed to show more fire in the encore.
DeMarre Carroll, Small Forward
I can barely remember anything that Carroll did in the game, although I do recall him diving for a loose ball. He opened the scoring for Atlanta with a three-pointer and managed a nice layup in the second half.
Rest of Bench
Lou Williams notched nine points in the first half through 13 minutes in reserve duty, but he found the bucket only once more as Atlanta swooned.
Elton Brand notched four points and seven boards in 18 minutes and even dished a couple of dimes. Frankly, it's surprising he's still in the league, but he's been a key source of depth in the Hawks frontcourt since Al Horford went down.
Mike Scott notched 11 points as another strong bench performer, but it wasn't nearly enough with the lopsided third quarter.
Atlanta was 24-17 at home during the season, the second-worst mark of any playoff team. It's also worth noting that the Hawks split the season series with the Pacers and went 1-1 on their home floor.
Game 3 tips off Thursday in Atlanta at 7 p.m. ET on NBA TV, while Game 4 will be on TNT Saturday at 2 p.m. ET.
The Hawks were all puffed up after their convincing win in Game 1, but they will have to shake off the shellacking visited upon them in the second half of Game 2. Anything less than a split back home will spell postseason doom for Atlanta, and it must change its jump-shooting ways to beat the No. 1 seed.